Qantas gets iPads. So did United. So what?

Qantas gets iPads. So did United. So what?

Summary: iPad mania is all the rage in the airline industry. But does it make a jot of difference to the customer experience? Not as far as I can tell.


Depending upon the person you are talking with, iPad is either cool (CEO/CFO types c.2010), running the business (delusional sales people, c. 2011) or as seems now to be its real purpose - saving paper and airline pilot's aching limbs. 

Earlier today, Suzanne Tindal reported that Qantas pilots are being issued with 64GB iPads. The deal is sized at 2,200 units. The report includes some oddities. Tindal says:

The devices will replace the flight plans, manuals and forms, and will keep pilots up to date with flight data.

Two apps have also been created specifically for pilot use: a charts app created by Boeing subsidiary Jeppeson, and a Qantas-built app to provide other flight information.

Last year, Next Web reported that United was taking on 11,000 iPads. Again, Jeppeson is the primary software supplier. So far so good. Then we get to the Qantas PR:

"The revolutionary capabilities of iPad technology, combined with the powerful customised apps, give our pilots the ability to replace cumbersome hard copies — saving time, resources and costs," Qantas technical pilot, captain Alex Passerini, said in a statement.

"This initiative is a response to strong demand from our pilots for a simpler, more efficient system, and follows extensive testing and development work, including close consultation with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority [CASA]."

Do you believe any of that? The first paragraph is far too buzzword compliant for my taste. The second only makes sense in the context that pilots actually know what they're looking for. Doesn't it make better sense to say that Qantas saw what competitors are up to and realised they needed to do something? Or rather that iPad is becoming standard cockpit gear following FAA approval. And what about OneWorld alliance initiatives in this area? Anything happening? Not as far as I can tell. 

More to the point, while it might be great that pilots will be relieved of a heavy operational burden (sic) how exactly is this going to improve things for customers? In two words: it doesn't. At least not obviously. 

As I was thinking through what this means, it struck me that iPad mania is blinding companies to genuine opportunities for improving the customer experience. For example, if the pilots are using iPad with wifi, why not extend that service to the whole plane? Anecdotal evidence from people I know and my own experience suggests there will be no shortage of takers. Look at the love Virgin America gets

In United's case, wifi connectivity alone might do something to turn the dial down on Ray Wang's ongoing beating up of America's unloved airline. I see there are plans to do so. Unfortunately it will only reach the whole United/Continental fleet by 2015. Why?

As innovation in companies becomes more than just a convenient and exciting buzzword, is it not time that those same companies thought about IT differently? Is it not time to be considering IT as transformational instead of as an incremental Band-Aid?

If you agree then that changes the nature of consultancy. But therein lies its own problem. In a recent post on the topic of incumbancy, Vinnie Mirchandani said:

An executive told me a few weeks ago “My outsourcer has been reading too many of your innovation books. We hired them to do fairly mundane application and infrastructure support. Instead of doing that better, cheaper, faster, they are always offering to help us with our innovation projects”.

If they are bored doing what they were hired for, why don’t they resign that contract and restructure themselves as an innovation focused firm? Of course not, and they would want a hefty early termination fee if the client asked them to leave.

To my mind much of this incrementalism starts with IT analysts. They have a history of focusing on bits and bytes for consumption by the CTO/CIO instead of focusing on what the business really needs. In recent times, the trend has been to big up the latest shiny new toy in homage to the fashionista way in which (largely Silicon Valley/Boston based) vendors and analysts dance around one another. Add in a healthy dose of ADD among hard pressed business people and you have a heady marketing mix that I would argue works against management's ability to think beyond the latest thing and obvious purpose. 

Innovation everywhere may be a wonderful thing, offering a corrnucopia of opportunity. But unless it is tempered by some deep thought into the possible then I doubt very much whether the promise of better customer experiences will ever be truly materialised.

Topics: iPad, Emerging Tech, Enterprise Software

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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  • I do not see this as being strictly about the iPad

    An iPad is simply the device that QANTAS and other airlines have chosen. To my mind, the more important issue is that they have moved from paper-based to tablet. From other articles that I have read, it seems that each pilot carried something like 20kg of paper. That makes a HUGE saving in paper and printing every day!

    Fair point about wi-fi - if it is available to pilots then why not make it available to everyone.
    • If it is

      a replacement for paper, do they haven / need wi-fi when actually on board?

      I would think, that they won't be updted during operation, only during down time.

      I agree, it seems that the important factor is the cost savings in paper, printing and fuel that are the important factor, not necessarily that they are using iPads per se.
      • I trust WiFi and Bluetooth is turned off

        Exposing a pilots iPad to everyone on the plane (perhaps even the terminal) would be a very bad idea.

        I'm not sure I understand the article; iPad wasn't revolutionary? Switch to electronic distribution for a heavily regulated industry isn't big news? Digital documents don't have significant advantages in this application?
        Richard Flude
    • its pathetic

      Because yes they need a device that has the ability to store data instead of paper but an ipad is pathetc, they need to access and many times INPUT data and doing so on a place with an ipad is like a retard trying to F a doorknob -- funny to watch but useless.

      The thin laptops do a much better job. Think about the end result and stop being an Appletard.
      Its a great toy, but barely useful on the plane.
      • Watch your bias, jabber wolf

        For the type of stuff pilots probably need to do a QWERTY keyboard is inferior to the ease, the one-handed AND ambidextrous flexibility of multitouch.
  • Apple marketing hype

    A critical mass of people are strongly influenced by Apple's marketing hype. Thanks mainly to these Apple fanboys and indeed their critics, anything to do with iPad is sure to receive disproportionately wide exposure, so iPad often features in cheap corporate PR stunts like this exercise by the airlines.
    Tim Acheson
    • Simple facts.

      A critical mass of people have become aware that there is no advantage to be gained by ignoring Apple's solutions for want of a better argument than joojoo magic mind distortion. Thanks mainly to Apple's product and integrated OS, an dedicated army of imaginative and creative developers as well as it's many demanding users, the traditional solutions, their promoters, arguments and products - have been found to lack the very abilities required for innovative new thinking. That the iPad features in many such examples is testament to real benefit.
  • Qantas gets iPads. So did United. So what?

    So what indeed. They are just using ebooks now instead of printed manuals. Doesn't say a whole lot for the iPad.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Would it say more to you if they were Android?

      I suspect so.
  • What a lack of research went into this article...

    I come to this site from a referring site, and receive not one but two pop up windows I've got to clear out of the way to what? Discover a half-researched article that chases its own tail.

    QANTAS has been investigating iPads for crew almost from the device's release in 2010. "Buzzwordy" or not, pilots have quickly tuned into the value of the iOS ecosystem. Everytime I hop on the QANTAS staff bus I am surrounded with iPhones whereas two years ago it was Blackberries. Pilots and for that matter cabin crew work at the intersection between highly complex technologies and demanding customer services, and they are highly discriminating when it comes to their personal technologies which they pay for themselves.

    A little research would have shown QANTAS is equipping some of its aircraft's business class seating with iPads and its own apps.; it has one of the best inflight magazines iPad versions available, while its Oneworld partner, British Airways is equipping cabin managers with iPads with passenger manifest information and other cabin info.

    QANTAS's domestic competitor has decided to go with Samsung Galaxies (one of the first significant errors IMHO in an almost faultness CEO operation since he came over from QANTAS after being passed over for its CEO position).

    QANTAS's discount airline is going with iPads for its longer flights, "renting" them out to pax with chosen content and specialised apps and long life batteries.

    With respect to United you have overlooked its PS flights from LAX/SFO to JFK with comes with wifi and GoGo connectivity; more routes to come on board in the next few years. Indeed, most of the top tier and legacy airlines will be introducing wifi as well as tablets big time in the next few years, disrupting the incumbent IFE makers in what is a billion dollar marketplace. After the empty hull and engine cost, IFE is the next greatest expense for an airline choosing a new aircraft.

    As for wifi for the rest of us who bring our own tablets on board, it will come sooner or later, in what is a very conservative industry worldwide. For me it can't come soon enough.
  • Basic return on investment

    How sad that Microsoft's advocates feel it necessary to spit sour grapes instead of just walking on by.

    Here's some math: it costs 58 cents per kilogram to buy the fuel for a single Quantas airliner to fly from Sydney to London. A single airliner will make three of these runs per day. Getting rid of 19kg of weight per airliner saves $12,000 per year, per airliner, just on fuel. Buying an iPad and getting $12,000 per year in return is not "marketing hype." It's business.
    Robert Hahn
    • Robert, a bit of advice.

      Never ever try to explain business sense or logic to Tim Acheson. It will fall on deaf ears.
    • Thats not the complaint

      Its how they use the ipad and why using something else instead would boost actual work.
      • Earn what you learn

        That's the beauty of them getting to run their own airline: they can evaluate their options and pick a course without having to ask your permission.

        Surely there are other airlines. Assuming you have a case to make to use some other thing, I assure you that if you do that, i.e. convince an airline to purchase 2,200 of something, whoever makes that thing will cut you a nice big commission check.
        Robert Hahn
        • Assume a Qantas airplane is in the midst of a crash with wifi problems!

          So the iPad does not work. Now that there are no paper manuals (yes the red book of rules that is chained to the main flight desk). What do the pilot and copilot do?

          I dread to imagine the scenario.

          I studied what happened during the crash of AirFrance 447 in mid-Atlantic ocean. The pilots relied too much on training using the automated screens ahead of them instead of improving manual flying techniques. The result was a massive and horrific crash followed by one of the gloomiest loss of life ever. Peace to them.

          Please and please note this imperative memo from that incident - it is not money one should save. It is safety one should improve. And I actually see the probability of pilot errors increasing now that it is even more automated in the cockpit - with ot without iPad.

          That safety improvement will come when onboard computer flying algorithms are made even more real time and more accurate. That is impossible to improve with iPads or Surface or Nexus tablets.
          • Starbucks in the Sky

            Nothing in the story indicates that the system being implemented uses any sort of in-flight WiFi. In fact other stories indicate that the system uses "3G when on the ground in Australia, and WiFi when on the ground elsewhere." The data is stored in the device, which has a 64GB SSD.

            I dunno, when you figure how many moving parts there are in an airliner, any one of which could kill everyone aboard if it failed, it's hard to get excited about one more device no matter what it is. I'm sure the same finger-wagging accompanied the introduction of retractable landing gear, jet engines, fly-by-wire, autopilots, and more.
            Robert Hahn
      • You mean...

        that's not [i]your[/i] complaint. The people who run Qantas obviously ignored you.
  • What is most interesting is that the United announcement ...

    ... came less than a week after Alec Baldwin was thrown off a United flight because he would not turn off his iPad. So much for all that crap about flight safety and electronics. Clear, an iPad in the cockpit poses "more of the threat" in the cockpit than it does in the cabin.

    It is all just nonsense. Soon, some airlines will have MS Surface tablets and some will have iPads. Before lone, we might even see Android tablets in the cockpit.
    M Wagner
  • Way out of context...

    Pilots are switching to Doc Martens for more that any way correlated to customer experience?

    The Airlines are moving away from an archaic paper based system; end of story.

    In case you haven't noticed....unless you are a PC or Mac power user, tablets (be it iPad or Droids) are here to stay.
  • Missing the Point

    Other than the point about WiFi, which should be its own article and more, I'm missing why your panties are in a twist. At most, you'll get an atta boy from the Apple bashers even though you didn't even. Couldn't think of anything else?